Firoozeh quickly learns that although her father said he had an expansive knowledge of both American culture and the English language, he may have exaggerated how comfortable he is at dealing with Americans. Rather than fitting in, he is completely befuddled by those around him.
In college, her father did not actually get out much. His only frequent contact was his roommate, a Pakistani. The two bonded over a taste for curry, despite neither speaking English or another common language. In order to better grasp English now that he is living in America again, he takes to reading as much as possible.
Nazireh, on the other hand, only tries to learn English by watching television shows such as Let’s Make A Deal and The Price Is Right. Rather than giving her a grasp of the language, those shows simply served to improve her skills at guessing the prices of products. Instead of striving to learn the language, Nazireh opts to use Firoozeh as an interpreter. This leads to many people being impressed with Firoozeh’s grasp of the language, but a complete dependence between her and her mother whenever her mother desired to go anywhere. Her parents have now lived in America for 30 years, but they still occasionally make mistakes when it comes to their English, oftentimes with humorous results.
Notes: In this chapter, Dumas continues to show the difficulties of life in America, especially at the start. This is past her initial challenges, as she has progressed somewhat, but her parents are still having as many difficulties as ever. Dumas does not take the stance that others should attempt to adapt to make her life easier, but rather strives to fit in with the culture around her.
Chapter 3: “In The Gutter”
In chapter 3, Dumas opens by showing why family is so important to her relatives. Kazem’s parents died when he was young, which meant he and his siblings had to take care of each other. That close bond endures to this day.
The other effect that upbringing had on Kazem is it gave him an overwhelming desire of becoming rich, and becoming rich quick. He would envision different scenarios in which he would come into extreme amounts of money. One vision of easy riches that he actually attempted was to win a large jackpot on a show called Bowling for Dollars. Kazem called the show in an effort to become a contestant, and after passing a few trial rounds, he is selected. Unfortunately, the show is not as easy as it looks on TV, and Kazem only won a total of seven dollars. After that incident, he gave up bowling for good.
Notes: Many people come to America with the goal of finding riches, fulfilling the American Dream. Since Kazem came to America with a job, his American Dream was not in the traditional sense of finding a better job, working hard, and earning his riches, but he wanted to obtain those riches nonetheless. This chapter also sets up how close Firoozeh’s extended family is, which is an important part of the rest of the book.
Chapter 4: “Save Me, Mickey”
When Firoozeh and her family first came to America, it was only a temporary move. That meant they had to try and see everything they could in California in a limited amount of time. Not only were they impressed by the major sights they saw, but they also gained pleasure by little things, such as a wide selection of key chains at souvenir shops.
Her father believed that Walt Disney was a genius, and the family attended Disneyland as often as possible. Kazem believed that the greatest creation of the 20th century was Pirates of the Caribbean. Every time he went on the ride he was as happy and amazed by it as the first time.
On one trip to Disneyland, Firoozeh wandered away to try one of the phones which allowed guests to talk to Mickey Mouse. When she returned, her family was gone. One major fear of her father’s was child kidnappings. The one major downside he saw to America as opposed to Iran was the high level of crime in America. Because of this, he lectured Firoozeh about how she should always go to the police if she needed help. Since there were no police in Disneyland, she instead went to an employee and told him she was lost. That employee took her to the Lost and Found building.
While Firoozeh was waiting for her family to come find her, another boy, in tears, was escorted into the building. He also did not speak English, but he did not speak Persian either, despite how much the women who worked there asked her to try.
Her father finally found her at the lost and found, and was so relieved to see her that he was willing to take her to the gift shop and buy her anything she wanted. He also thought she was a genius due to how she calmly was able to figure out what to do in that situation.
Nazireh, on the other hand, learns English mostly by watching television. After a few months of watching The Price is Right, she becomes an expert on American goods. Nazireh then relies on Firoozeh to interpret English for her. While many compliment Firoozeh on her skills as a translator, Nazireh usually says, “Americans are easily impressed.” Firoozeh still has problems learning American English slang. She and her mother once spent hours looking for “elbow grease” at a store after talking to their repairman. Thirty years later, Nazireh and Kazem’s English is better, but still not perfect. However, there are now more Iranian-American immigrants around them, meaning that Nazireh can communicate with strangers without help.
It’s notable that Nazireh learns English through the language of consumerism and materialism—learning the names of goods and prizes on The Price is Right. Iranian cultural expectations about women may also explain why Nazireh isn’t always willing to go outside and practice her English with strangers—but it’s also possible that her experiences with other Americans have not been as positive as Firoozeh’s, and so Nazireh is more wary about her new environment. The story about “elbow grease” is a good example of Firoozeh using a small humorous anecdote to encapsulate the wider experience of being an immigrant.